Like a distant and wry gift from Hurricane Florence, it started washing up on a Hammock beach in norther Flagler County Wednesday and Thursday, the marooned loot totaling more than 100 pounds: bundles and bundles of it, pot tightly packed in standard kilo-bricks and catching the attention of several people, some of them mistaking the floating packages for an early Christmas present.
They rushed in, starry-eyed. A caller to 911 told dispatchers that “several” people were grabbing and attempting to open the packages. She’d yell out to them not to. They ignored her, even when she told them that she was on the phone with 911.
“An unknown white female wearing a yellow bikini and multiple unknown males cut open the bundle of narcotics and started taking individual ‘bricks’ of the narcotics,” a Flagler County Sheriff’s report stated. The drugs washed up in the area of 2450 North Ocean Shore Blvd. Later, a Flagler Beach police officer collected a clear plastic bag containing suspected drugs in the area of 1700 North Ocean Shore.
When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the first location, they made contact with the caller and another individual, Caleb Ayers, an off-duty cop from Georgia. The deputies saw what they described as “four circular, tightly wrapped, bundles of suspected narcotics and a large bundle of 12 brick style suspected narcotics in their possession. I further observed a single additional separate brick style bundle in their possession.”
Another man was on the beach: Robert Kelley, who had not approached deputies. The 911 caller pointed him out “as having taken a ‘brick’ of the narcotics from the bundle on the beach and leaving to the parking lot,” the report states. Kelley, 61, a resident of Westbrook lane in palm Coast, allegedly bundled the brick in a brown towel before leaving the scene.
A deputy asked Kelley if he’d taken any pot. Kelley told him he had, but that he was holding it for law enforcement. “It should be noted that Deputy Gaddie had to initiate the interaction with Robert before Robert stated that he indeed had a ‘brick’ of narcotics,” the report states. Kelley said he didn;t know if cops would be on their way and at first claimed that he hadn’t pried a brick from a bundle, but then “recanted,” according to the report. When he opened his trunk, the deputy located a brick wrapped in plastic containing approximately 11 pounds of pot, wrapped in a brown beach towel.
If Kelley had been caught with less than 20 grams, he’d have faced a first-degree misdemeanor. Because of the larger amount, he was arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and booked at the Flagler County jail. He posted bail on $2,500 bond within 90 minutes and was released.
A sheriff’s deputy contacted the Coast Guard and was put in contact with customs and homeland security officials, who, according to an incident report, said “they were investigating numerous suspected narcotic bundles washing ashore in the area St. Augustine to New Smyrna Beach.” Customs officials said they’d be sending a team to Flagler to inspect and collect the bundles.
“We don’t know exactly where it’s coming from,” Sheriff Rick Staly said this morning on WNZF’s Free For All Fridays as he spoke with David Ayres, the host. “So we would suspect that it is either a smuggler’s boat that went down because of the storm or it could have been a boat that the occupants or the smugglers got nervous, and started dumping it, maybe they thought they were being followed or something like that. So we don’t know exactly where it’s coming from, we’ve turned it over to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Generally these carets that smuggle this stuff in, generally from the Caribbean, they package them in certain ways so it could be connected to some smuggling investigation the DEA or customs is working.”
Staly stressed that the haul was not “legal marijuana,” and it shouldn’t be confused with medical marijuana. He spoke of those trying to open or take bricks and referred to Thursday’s lone arrest. “We’re looking for a woman that stole another one that we have a citizen that gave us a photo of,” Staly said. “So for those that may be finding these bricks washing up on the beaches, and they’ve been washing up in St. John’s, Flagler and Volusia County, if you take one of them, you will go to jail. So our suggestion is, if you see that, call us, let us properly handle it and dispose of it.”
Staly conceded that the bricks have yielded a few good puns by commenters on the agency’s Facebook page, but said “it is definitely not” finders keepers. “Marijuana is still illegal in the state of Florida and technically the United States under federal law, though there’s been some states, obviously, that have done other things.” Federal legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives, for example, may freely smoke pot: recreational marijuana is legal in the District of Columbia.
Nine states have legalized recreational marijuana and an additional 22 states have legalized medical marijuana, including Florida. But in all those states, the marijuana is tightly controlled and regulated, so that even if it were to wash up on an Oregonian shore, it would not be legal for an individual to grab and go: Oregonians–to take one example–are allowed to carry up to one ounce in public and to own up to 8 ounces at home, or grow up to four plants at home, absent a license to cultivate marijuana commercially. Beyond that, they run into legal trouble.
Staly took to Facebook at one point to address misconceptions about marijuana laws, as commenters were becoming critical of the agency for the seizure or the arrest. “The marijuana that washed on shore is contraband and it was concealed from law enforcement, that is the equivalent of ‘stealing’ it,” the sheriff wrote. “Contraband is not legal to possess.”
Some commenters were not convinced.